Congratulations to winners of 2017 Zach Taylor First Amendment Essay Contest

Judges considered 247 essay entries from 20 schools for FOI Oklahoma's 2017 Zach Taylor Essay Contest. The judges, many of whom have served on the essay committee for many years, commented it was the best group of essays we have received in some time.

We hope students found this to be a valuable and enlightening exercise. FOI Oklahoma sponsors this annual essay contest and the annual First Amendment Congress to help our young people explore the importance of the Amendment’s five freedoms in modern day America.

The results:

First Place ($300 cash prize)  Jade Roberson, Edmond Santa Fe High School Roberson celebrates the brevity of the First Amendment and the “magnitude” of freedoms guaranteed in its concise language. In particular, she cites the right of assembly, and how this freedom—exercised through the course of American history—has set the stage for the rights and opportunities she now enjoys “as a young woman facing college and career decisions….”

Second Place ($200 cash prize)  Sonia Coffin, Hobart High School Coffin was born in Russia, and she shares the disturbing story of a family friend back in the homeland—a man who was murdered when “caught” with a Bible—to illustrate how important religious freedom is to the American way of life. “My parents now own the blood-spattered Bible, which is a remarkable reminder of how privileged we are to have…freedom of religion.”

Third Place ($100 cash prize)  Michaela Anang, Edmond Santa Fe High School Anang has a new appreciation for free speech following an uncle’s harrowing experience with authorities in Nigeria simply for “tweeting” his thoughts about that country’s government. “The First Amendment has never been something I had to think about because it is a part of my life… Now I have a better understanding of the First Amendment’s value and how it makes my life radically different from millions of people just like me.”

Honorable Mentions ($15 iTunes® gift cards):

  • On Freedom of Speech
    • Gabriele Davis, Edmond Memorial High School
    • Angela George, Norman High School
    • Cori Ratliff, Edmond Memorial High School
    • Patrick Stone, ASTEC Charter High School
    • McKenzie Tipton, Oklahoma Christian School
  • On Freedom of Religion
    • Jessica Gutierrez, Enid Chisholm High School
  • On Freedom to Assemble
    • Haden Bollenbach, Edmond Memorial High School

Certificates and prizes were presented at the First Amendment Congress on Thursday at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.

Who Was Zach Taylor? A staunch supporter of the First Amendment and citizen inclusion in the governing process, Zach Taylor served as executive director of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments for nearly 30 years. ACOG is a government association composed of 35 cities, towns and counties in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

His notable accomplishments at ACOG included the implementation of the enhanced 9–1–1 emergency phone system in 1989, and an update to the system to enable it to work with wireless phones in 2005.

He also led efforts with transportation planning, water planning and environmental issues. He believed that everyone in Central Oklahoma, from a small town resident to an urban pioneer, should have the same voice on quality-of-life issues and others that affect everyone equally.

Taylor was a leader in FOI Oklahoma and served on the organization’s First Amendment Congress planning committee for more than 10 years. Following his death in 2008, FOI Oklahoma renamed the annual First Amendment Essay Contest in his honor.

By Bill Young Administrator, Public Information Office Okla. Department of Libraries